Government

Northport resident Jim Gaughran celebrated two milestones in his hometown this past weekend.

Gaughran was sworn in as New York State senator representing the 5th District at the John W. Engeman Theater Jan. 6, the day after his birthday. He will be one of six Democrats who travel to Albany to represent Long Island’s interest in the state Senate as it kicks off its 2019 session.

“I am humble and honored to represent our district in the state Senate,” Gaughran said. “I am excited for the opportunity to help end the dysfunction in Albany and finally pass critical legislation that New Yorkers have been demanding.”

The newly elected senator upset longtime incumbent Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) in November winning by more than 12,000 votes, according to New York State Board of Elections. While this is Gaughran’s first state office, he is no stranger to politics.

“Jim has been a leader here in this town, county and on Long Island for decades now,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “He was a pioneer in Democratic politics when he was the youngest town board member elected in Huntington in 1983.”

The attorney has previous served terms as a Huntington Town councilman and in Suffolk County Legislature. He focused on ethic reforms, campaign finance, criminal justice and public safety issues while serving Suffolk, according to Bellone, in the 1980s and early ’90s. Gaughran has been serving as the chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority.

“Jim has got the experience, he’s got the intelligence and he’s got the disposition to be a fantastic senator,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) said.

‘You will see a state government that will deliver more for Long Island than New York City has ever delivered for Long Island.’

— Andrew Cuomo

As Gaughran takes office, he will serve as chair of the Senate Local Government Committee. As representative of the 5th District, he will have to juggle representing the interests of constituents in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, covering the North Shore from Glen Cove to Commack.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) administered the oath of office to Gaughran as he stood alongside his wife, Carol, and son, Michael.

Cuomo, who said he’s known Gaughran for more than 30 years, assured those attending the swearing-in ceremony that their new representative will stand strong and not be pushed around by his Democratic colleagues from New York City.

“You are going to have the strongest delegation you will ever have,” the governor said. “You will see a state government that will deliver more for Long Island than New York City has ever delivered for Long Island.”

As the Legislature convenes Jan. 9, Cuomo said top priorities on his agenda will including passing the Reproductive Health Act to ensure women’s health care rights, legislation to create early voting in New York, campaign finance reform, more funding for environmental protection, and increasing government transparency through the Freedom of Information Act for state government
and Legislature.

Gaughran said he supports the governor’s initiatives and hopes to focus on criminal justice reform, ensuring health care for all and improving the performance of the Long Island Rail Road.

He made a specific promise to Dix Hills residents Linda Beigel Schulman and Michael Schulman, whose son, Scott Beigel, was killed in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting.

“I want to tell Linda and Michael, in honor of Scott, if we get nothing else done, we’re going to pass the red flag law,” Gaughran said, drowned out by thunderous applause. “Never again, never again.”

The proposed red flag bill would increase gun control by permitting police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.

A screenshot of the Town of Smithtown's website as it appeared Jan. 8.

By David Luces

Town of Smithtown officials are looking for input from the community on what they would like to see in a remodeled town website.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said in a statement that the redesign of the town’s website is long overdue.

“Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing,” Wehrheim said. “We hope this survey will give those who have suggestions or ideas the chance to share them with our web design team and later the community.”

Smithtown’s website was last updated eight years ago, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing.” 

— Ed Wehrheim

“One of the primary things I’ve wanted to see get done was the remodeling of the town’s website,” she said. “I spoke with our IT director and he agreed with the plans to update the website.”

When it came to decide how the town would update the website, Garguilo said the town board considered a few options, including WordPress and other web-design services. However, it decided to stay with CivicPlus, a web development business that specializes in building city and county e-government communication systems that currently maintains the website.

“We have worked with them for quite some time,” she said. “They offered to upgrade our current web page and we thought it would be more efficient.”

As part of the remodeling, the town has put out a survey for residents to complete by Jan. 11.

Kenneth Burke, the town’s IT director,   said the main goal of the survey is to see what residents like and don’t like in a new website.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website,” Burke said.

The community survey consists of 10 questions that ask respondents to answer how frequently they visit the town’s website, the ease of finding information, what pages they visit the most often and what features they would like to see included in the redesign. There is also a section where residents can give written answers to any special needs they have regarding webpage browsing and suggested changes.

He estimated the redesign would be approximately a six-month project and hopes to roll out the new website in June.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website.”

—Kenneth Burke

The town has also reached out to local online groups, such as Smithtown Moms, to get their opinions on a new website. Once the final results of the survey come in, town employees will start data mining and compiling content for the new website.

Garguilo said the content creation side of the new website should take about four to five months to be completed because of back-end organizing, which includes record transfers and archival data. The new interface should take less time to be completed.

“We are working on a 30-second teaser video for the Town of Smithtown,” the town spokesperson said. “It will be like an about us video right off the bat when you get on the website.”

Garguilo said that the video will include  important facts and pictures of landmarks to showcase the town.

Another plan the town has is the creation of an app that can work in conjunction with the new website.

“Lets just say a resident wanted to report something — they can go to the app and fill out a form — and that’ll be sent right to our system,” Garguilo said. “This will lead to faster results and hopefully residents are happier.”

To participate, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/SmithtownWebsiteRedesign through Jan. 11.

Town moves forward with design, engineering for Lake Avenue despite uncertainty of future site hookup

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

Town of Smithtown officials aren’t willing to risk wasting any time, so they are forging ahead with plans to sewer downtown St. James.

Smithtown town board voted unanimously Dec. 11 to issue a request for proposals for engineers to plan and design a sewer system for the Lake Avenue Business District this coming January. Three days later, the town hired Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting to prepare the documents needed to do so.

We’re on a tight leash with the engineering for sewer projects to be ready to go in summer 2019.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“We’re on a tight leash with the engineering for sewer projects to be ready to go in summer 2019,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “If we waited another two weeks, we’d be pushing back our timeline.”

Town officials are hoping to have the plans and funding necessary to sewer Lake Avenue’s business district by next summer, which the $2.4 million replacement of St. James’ aging water mains is slated for, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. Replacement of the business district’s water mains has already been delayed once by the town with a desire to complete both infrastructural projects at the same time while the roads are ripped up.

“We are going to sewer because we are opening the ground already,” Garguilo said. “We don’t want to put residents through the inconvenience twice.”

Smithtown officials will need to have these design and engineering plans in hand and submitted, as well as other necessary documentation, in order to receive the $3.9 million grant from the State and Municipal Facilities Program, a nonspecific discretionary pot of funding for municipal assistance, announced by New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) in October.

“We don’t want to put residents through the inconvenience twice.”

— Nicole Garguilo

The town does not have any official agreement with developer Gyrodyne LLC, according to Garguilo, to access the sewage treatment facility it has proposed building as part of its plans for the Flowerfield property in St. James. The developer has proposed plans to construct a 150-room hotel with a restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings and a 220-unit assisted living complex. It is currently completing the final environmental review to present to the town’s planning board for approval.

“If we need to, we’ll find another sewer plant, hook into Kings Park or another pump station,” Garguilo said.

Many St. James business people and civic leaders have stated while they are excited by the prospect of sewers, they were also aware that construction, both the tearing and replacing of sidewalks and asphalt, could disrupt existing businesses. Wehrheim said the town could plan to doing the work in sections, separated by the connecting streets all the way down Lake Avenue.

“It’s going to be a huge disturbance, but we’re prepared for that,” the supervisor said.

Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James, previously stated the civic group believes the community will benefit more from construction.

The LIPA plant as seen from Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

A New York State Supreme Court judge approved the Town of Brookhaven’s settlement with the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station’s tax assessment. 

In the agreement signed Dec. 14, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant will be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year.

It’s a not-so-final finale to what has become years upon years of grinding legal battles and anxiety over what will happen to local taxes should LIPA, which claimed its power plant has been overassessed by hundreds of millions of dollars for nearly a decade. LIPA’s lawsuit wanted its assessments reduced by
approximately 90 percent.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement the settlement will benefit Brookhaven in the form of lower electric bills.

“This deal puts an end to the uncertainty of this plant over the course of nine years and gives finality to this issue,” Romaine said. “I have always believed that all property assessments should be fairly based on property value.”

Brookhaven officials said that without a settlement, taxpayers faced the potential of being liable for $225 million to LIPA, and the power authority has said LIPA customers will save a total of $662 million by 2027.

“It was a reasonable settlement, one we can justify to our 1.1 million customers,” LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said.

While this settlement promises savings for Brookhaven residents, the agreement has made Port Jefferson residents, especially those living close to the two red-and-white smokestacks, question what their taxes will look like in the near future. In October the Port Jefferson School District released a series of slides showing they annually received a $17 million payment through LIPA’s tax payments, but this would be reduced to $13.8 million by 2027. While Superintendent Paul Casciano said he and his staff are still reviewing the impact of the settlement, he sees the outcome could be even worse. He expects school programs will have to be cut in the next few years, with tax increases for residents.

“It’s going to affect the tax base,” the superintendent said. “Even if our budget was voted down, there’s a high likelihood that residents will see a
double-digit increase in their tax rate.”

The settlement will also require the district to amend their plans for the 2019-20 budget next year.

Falcone said the school district already enjoys lower annual school taxes at $6,273 compared to neighboring districts calculated at little more than $10,000 based on 2015 tax data.

“It means they will go from a ‘great deal’ to a ‘good deal,’” Falcone said. “They’re still going to have the lowest taxes of their neighborhood.”

The CEO added that it was unfair for the rest of LIPA customers to have to subsidize the Port Jeff school district through their higher bills.

“I think at some point you have to say what’s fair for those 1.1 million other customers because they pay their school taxes, too,” he said.

The Port Jeff superintendent said the village has been conciliatory about letting a power plant operate within its boundaries, whereas other places in Brookhaven would have barred the plant from existing in the first place.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it,” Casciano said. 

In April Port Jefferson Village board passed its 2018-19 budget of $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from last year’s budget. The new budget included $107,000 in reserve funds in anticipation of the glide path agreement with LIPA resulting in reduced payments.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she agrees with the settlement, and it could lead to more use of the plant. In 2017 the facility was only powered on for 41 days, or 11 percent of the year, according to LIPA officials.

Falcone said the Port Jeff power plant operates based on the electricity needs of residents.

“This is an important step we made today to stabilize our tax base moving forward and the viability of any opportunity to repower our power plant,” Garant said in a press release.

The settlement also comes after big wins for LIPA in the courts against the towns of Huntington and Brookhaven, and Port Jeff Village, allowing LIPA to move ahead with its effort to challenge its assessments. Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has publicly asked New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to enact legislation that would protect residents taxes should LIPA get its way in court.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it.”
— Paul Casino

PSEG Long Island customers pay power plant taxes through monthly surcharges on their electric bills, but LIPA owns the electric grid and has agreements with National Grid for the power plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport. In 2009 LIPA challenged both the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington saying it had been overassessed for years, especially since the Port Jeff plant runs for so little time.

The Port Jefferson School District along with the Northport-East Northport school district and Huntington Town filed a lawsuit saying LIPA had made past promises not to challenge the taxes levied on their power plants, but they were dealt a blow in September when a state Supreme Court judge ruled LIPA “made no promises” about challenging the taxes levied. 

Garant and other Port Jeff Village officials have expressed past desires to renovate the power plant once the tax assessment issue was settled.
In September the village board advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its base-load plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

This is despite Cuomo setting a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources
by 2030.

Falcone said they do not currently have any plans to run the plant more or do any renovations to plant that has been there since the 1940s. 

Through being used so little and with the push for more green energy, residents have questioned how long LIPA will keep the plant running. The LIPA CEO said the plant will continue to operate for the next seven years, but in the future could be upgraded or transformed into some other space used by the power authority, such as a storage facility or a new, modernized facility.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A proposal for Suffolk County sue former  police chief James Burke over the $1.5 million settlement it paid out to his victim was tabled by the county Legislature as legal advice on the best approach to seek reparations differed.

The county’s Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing Dec. 13 on Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) resolution to have Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini (D) initiate a lawsuit against Burke for the settlement the county paid out to Christopher Loeb in February 2018.

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor),the chairwoman of the committee, cited a memo from county attorney Dennis Brown that advised Trotta’s proposed lawsuit “would likely be unsuccessful but could expose us to [court] sanctions and attorney fees.”

“As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

— Dennis Brown

“There is no basis for it,” Brown said when questioned. “As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

In the federal civil lawsuit, Suffolk agreed to pay the $1.5 million settlement as Burke’s employer at the time for the civil rights offenses and the actions of six other police officers who participated in covering up the ex-chief’s actions. Burke retained his own private attorney and settled Loeb’s civil case against him for an undisclosed sum, according to Fleming.

Howard Miller, a Garden City-based attorney with the law firm Bond Shoeneck & King, presented a case for the county suing Burke for his wages and compensation paid by the county under the faithless servant doctrine. This doctrine, according to Miller, dates back to the 19th century allowing employers to seek compensation back from disloyal employees.

“Here, the facts are egregious as you had not only beating of the suspect but systematic coverup of that,” he said. “This doctrine is designed to create a deterrent to future acts like this, of corruption and misconduct.”

Attorney Howard Miller speaks before Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Miller stated doing so wouldn’t necessarily require further court litigation, given Burke had pled guilty, but could help Suffolk to claw back wages and any benefits paid to the former police chief from the date of the incident with Loeb, occurring in 2012, through Burke’s resignation in October 2015. While he admitted a lawsuit to see back the $1.5 million settlement was iffy, Miller said he has successfully represented clients at the state level who have been successful in similar lawsuits, including the William Floyd school district.

“What would be a successful lawsuit in my opinion, a plainly meritorious suit would be to go after the compensation [Burke] was paid while he was covering up his misconduct,” Miller said.

Fleming called for the county attorney to research the county’s legal possibility further and received a vote to table the discussion. Trotta has promised to submit an new resolution seeking to sue Burke for repayment of his salary.

Several Suffolk residents and former police department members asked the Legislature to further investigate what its legal options were for seeking repayment of the settlement, Burke’s salary or pension.

“You as the legislative body of our county have a fiduciary responsibility to Suffolk residents to go after the employees whose actions harm their employees, thus harming Suffolk County residents,” Pam Farino, of Smithtown, said. “Disgraced ex-chief James Burke did just that.”

Huntington resident James McGoldrick complimented Trotta for his intentions but asked the county’s officials to consider the cost of any legal action, considering the total funds Suffolk stood to regain might not be enough compared to the expenses of further litigation.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine announced Dec. 12 that the town received the AAA long-term rating on general obligation bonds from S&P Global. File photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven is on solid footing when it comes to its finances.

On Dec. 12 Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced that S&P Global Ratings, an American financial services company, assigned its top-tier AAA long-term rating to the town’s series 2018A and 2018B general obligation bonds. The municipal bond is one that is secured by a local government’s pledge to use legally available resources, such as tax revenues, to repay bondholders.

“Our financial team has worked hard to achieve this AAA stable rating, but the real winners are the taxpayers who will save millions of dollars in the years ahead,” Romaine said. “We owe it to them to spend their money more wisely.”

S&P Global also affirmed the same rating on the town’s existing bonds. Based on recent local municipal bond sales, it’s been estimated this rating and bond sale has resulted in a $1.65 million savings for taxpayers, according to a press release from Brookhaven township. The town plans to finance construction of ambulance buildings, open-space acquisitions and other infrastructure projects with the bonds. The $20.8 million general obligation bonds will be amortized over 20 years, according to the release.

S&P cited in its AAA ranking a very strong economy, with the town’s access to a broad and diverse metropolitan statistical area and a local stabilizing institutional influence; strong management, with strong financial policies and practices; and solid budgetary performance with operating surpluses in the general fund and at the total government fund level in fiscal 2017. There was also budgetary flexibility and strong liquidity, among others.

According to S&P’s rating announcement, the Brookhaven’s rating is higher than the U.S. 10-year Treasury note. S&P believes “the town can maintain better credit characteristics than the U.S. in a stress scenario.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who is the board liaison to the town’s Department of Finance, said the rating is due to the town’s fiscally conservative ethos.

“The AAA Stable rating is clear evidence that our conservative fiscal policies have made a significant impact, saving taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Bonner said. “I am proud to continue working with Supervisor Romaine and the finance team to help build on the success that we have already achieved.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) credited the board with working toward balancing the budget and responsible fiscal management.

“We tackle this process with the goal of continuous improvement,” Cartright said. “Receiving the highest bond rating, once again, is a reflection of this effort.”

Sully sits by former President George H.W. Bush. Photo from Instagram @sullyhwbush

A service dog raised in Smithtown won the hearts of thousands across the nation by demonstrating, perhaps, why dogs may truly be man’s best friend till the very end.

An Instagram photo of Sully, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, laying besides the flag-draped coffin of the late President George H.W. Bush posted by his spokesman Jim McGraff with a simple caption of “Mission complete” from Houston Dec. 2 went viral, quickly receiving more than 270,000 likes. The dog’s trainers at America’s VetDogs in Smithtown could only watch from a distance with mixed feelings.

“It hit us all very emotionally,” Brad Hibbard, chief program officer for America’s VetDogs said. “It was very sad for him, for George H.W. Bush’s family and Sully. Sully had quite a bond with the president, he slept in his room every night. It was so emotional, very sad but also with pride.”

President George H.W. Bush with President Bill Clinton and Bush’s guide dog Sully

Sully, named after the former airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who safely landed a damaged jet on the Hudson River in 2009, was trained by America’s VetDogs earlier this year for Bush. The sister nonprofit organization to the Guide Dog Foundation trains and places guide dogs for veterans and first responders who are blind, have impaired vision or have lost their hearing. In addition, they train service dogs for those who suffer physical disabilities or have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hibbard said starting with Bush’s very first phone call to VetDogs about receiving a service dog, the 41st president expressed his concerns what would happen to the dog should something happen to him. After a lengthy discussion, the former president expressed that he wanted Sully to serve at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he had first learned about the nonprofit organization.

“There was no doubt in our minds what the president’s wishes were,” Hibbard said.

Sully will go to work alongside two fellow VetDogs graduate canines, Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman, at Walter Reed medical center next year, according to Hibbard, to help assist thousands of servicemen and women who pass through the facility while undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

“Sully will be able to have a huge impact there,” Hibbard said.

Sully lies at the foot of President George H.W. Bush’s coffin.

After the late president’s funeral, the 2-year-old service dog was brought back to the VetDogs’ Smithtown campus, located on East Jericho Turnpike, for some well-deserved rest and decompression during the holidays before making his next transition. Hibbard said the nonprofit is currently in communication with Walter Reed about the facility’s needs, and Sully will undergo any necessary additional training, possibly in the area of assisting with occupational training, before heading back to work early in 2019.

Once in Maryland, Sully will officially join the U.S. Navy — the same branch George H.W. Bush served in — and be given an honorary military rank as per tradition according to Hibbard. Sully’s fans may be happy to know his trainers are seeing if it’s possible to keep his Instagram account, @sullyhwbush, running.

To learn more about America’s VetDogs, donate or volunteer, visit www.vetdogs.org or call 631-930-9000.

The Northport power plant. File photo

Town of Huntington officials made the decision Tuesday to take Long Island Power Authority’s proclaimed value of the Northport Power Station at $193 million as an invitation to investigate purchasing the facility.

Huntington town board approved a resolution offered by Councilman Gene Cook (I) to authorize the town attorney’s office to formally research into its legal options in utilizing eminent domain to take ownership of the Northport plant by a 4-1 vote.

“It’s for the people, to look out for the future of the Town of Huntington,” he said. “I have done a lot of research and I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

“It’s for the people, to look out for the future of the Town of Huntington.”

— Gene Cook

The councilman first raised the possibility of turning to eminent domain back in May, days after LIPA submitted documents to Suffolk County Supreme Court in its pending tax certiorari lawsuit against the town, which disputes the current annual tax-assessed value of the plant at about $80 million. The utility company has alleged the structure only has a fair market value of $193,680,000 as of July 1, 2013, based on a market value report from Tarrytown-based Tulis Wilkes Huff & Geiger.

“I looked at that appraisal not as a fair evaluation, but an invitation for the town to explore condemnation of the plant,” Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said. “The price is so ridiculously low that it would be negligent of us to not explore the possibility of acquiring the plant.”

Smyth said that he believes the Northport Power Station, which is actually owned by National Grid, is underutilized by LIPA, perhaps intentionally to devalue it given the ongoing tax certiorari lawsuit.

Cook had previously stated he believes the Northport facility is one of the largest power plants in the Northeast and will become more valuable with future improvements. He said his research shows the facility has the potential to operate and generate electric for another 15 to 30 years, up to a maximum of 40 years before closing down. Cook previously estimated the power station could produce as much as $5 billion in revenue per year for the town.

“The price is so ridiculously low that it would be negligent of us to not explore the possibility of acquiring the plant.”

— Ed Smyth

“What I like if the town buys it now at this rate is, when the plant is closed, we could shut it down and give the property back to the people for reaction or environmental uses,” he said.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the lone vote against an official resolution requesting the town attorney’s office to conduct research into the possibility of eminent domain. He called the legislation an unnecessary act of “grandstanding,” stating any board member could have simply verbally requested the town attorney to look into the matter.

“We are creating false hope this is a viable option, if it really were an option our lawyers would have suggested it a long time ago,” he said. “It is not a possibility to operate the LIPA plant as municipal power authority.”

The councilman also stated that under New York State General Municipal Law, if the town were to take over daily operation of the power station it would not pay any taxes to the Northport-East Northport School District — which currently receives approximately $56 million annually from the utility company.

If the town were to initiate the process of obtaining the power plan via eminent domain, it would not resolve the town’s lawsuit with LIPA. In addition to seeking a 90 percent reduction of taxes on the power plant, LIPA is asking for the town to reimburse it for alleged overpayment of taxes each year since it filed the claim in 2010 — totaling more than $500 million.

“We are creating false hope this is a viable option, if it really were an option our lawyers would have suggested it a long time ago.”

— Mark Cuthbertson

Sid Nathan, spokesman for LIPA, said the company had no comment as it is continuing negotiations at this time. 

Huntington, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid all agreed to sit down with neutral third-party mediator, Port Washington-based attorney Marty Scheinman, in nonbinding arbitration this July to see if all parties could reach a potential settlement agreement over the tax-assessed value of the Northport plant. The trial on the tax certiorari case is scheduled to continue in February 2019, according to Cook. 

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor for the Village of Northport, commended Cook and the town board for their decision to move forward with investigating the legal potential of utilizing eminent domain to take over the plant.

“Whether it ever gets to the point of the town acquiring it through eminent domain, it’s another piece of the puzzle that will put a little pressure on the utility and LIPA to come to an agreement that’s good for all of us,” Kehoe said.

Former legislative aide alleges then-state assemblyman forcibly touched him in Albany hotel rooms

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A former staff member of Chad Lupinacci, Huntington town supervisor, has filed a lawsuit alleging the then-state assemblyman of sexual assault and harassment during his employment.

Brian Finnegan, Lupinacci’s former legislative aide and chief of staff, filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Supreme Court Dec. 4 alleging that Lupinacci forced non-consensual sexual acts and inappropriate touching on him during overnight trips to Albany in December 2017.

“I was forced to forfeit my career in public service, something in which I took much pride in making our community a better place,” Finnegan said in a statement. “At the drop of the hat, my hard work was meaningless and I was unemployed, all because I was the target of a sexual predator. My life was shattered.”

“At the drop of the hat, my hard work was meaningless and I was unemployed, all because I was the target of a sexual predator. My life was shattered.”

— Brian Finnegan

Brian Griffin, a Garden City-based attorney with Foley Griffin LLP representing Lupinacci, said Finnegan’s allegations were “unequivocally false and completely without merit,” and an attempt at “an unjust and unwarranted financial payday.” The attorney said that despite the alleged incidents having occurred approximately a year ago, no complaint was ever filed with the New York State Assembly.

Finnegan worked as legislative aide for Lupinacci for three years while he represented the 10th state Assembly District and traveled with him to Albany at least once a month for work responsibilities. During that time, Manhattan-based attorney Imran Ansari, of Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins PC, said his client, Finnegan, was subjected to “a pattern of somewhat bizarre and inappropriate behavior” culminating in an alleged sexual assault.

“Mr. Finnegan was subjected to unlawful and unwanted sexual contact by Mr. Lupinacci that amounts to nothing less than assault,” the attorney said. “He endured harassment and abuse over his time working for Mr. Lupinacci and in order to escape this hostile work environment gave up a position in public service that was personally, professionally and financially rewarding. He’s suffered economic damages and pain and suffering, but most importantly, he seeks the justice.”

The lawsuit filed this month claims that Finnegan frequently was asked inappropriate questions about his personal life, including the women he was dating, from the then-assemblyman, and found evidence his employer went into his cellphone and computer without permission.

“Supervisor Lupinacci has spent over a decade educating our students, serving on the local school board, working in the [state] Assembly and as the supervisor of the Town of Huntington,” Griffin said in a statement. “Supervisor Lupinacci denies these claims and will continue to serve the people of the Town of Huntington in the same professional and dedicated manner that he has done throughout his career in public service. He will vigorously defend himself against these false allegations.”

On Dec. 5, 2017, Finnegan said he was sharing a hotel room at Hilton Albany with Lupinacci, who allegedly insisted it was for “budgetary reasons,” when between the hours of 2 to 5 a.m. he woke to finding his employer standing over him. The former aide alleges that he felt Lupinacci touching the zipper of his suit pants and attempted to bat him away, according to the lawsuit. He claims to have confronted Huntington’s supervisor-elect asking “What are you doing?” before falling back asleep, and a second time tried to confront him but Lupinacci allegedly jumped back into bed.

Supervisor Lupinacci denies these claims and will continue to serve the people of the Town of Huntington in the same professional and dedicated manner that he has done throughout his career in public service.”

— Brian Griffin

Finnegan claims he was reluctant to make a second overnight trip to Albany Dec. 12, 2017, and share a room with the then-state assemblyman at the Renaissance Albany Hotel. The ex-staffer said he awoke around 2:30 a.m. in the morning to find Lupinacci kneeling at the side of his bed. Lupinacci allegedly replied something about “checking to see if [Finnegan wanted food] and left,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges Finnegan’s boxers had been moved and manipulated to expose his genitals, and said he believes Lupinacci had inappropriate and nonconsensual sexual contact while he was asleep amounting to sexual assault.

“You’ve been touching me in my sleep and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Finnegan said confronting Lupinacci, according to the lawsuit. “This is done, this is over, I can’t work for you anymore.”

The ex-staffer said he left Renaissance Albany in the early hours of the night, purchased an Amtrak ticket home and waited as the politician allegedly attempted to repeatedly call his cellphone before driving around the city of Albany in an effort to find him.

“I was terrified and felt hunted,” Finnegan said.

The former staffer said he gave his resignation to Lupinacci days later and declined a position already offered to him as an executive assistant and senior adviser in the incoming Huntington administration.

The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation from the Huntington town supervisor for economic damages, in addition to pain and suffering, Ansari said. While a specific dollar amount was not cited, the attorney argued his client could have been earning considerably much more working for the town with better benefits. Finnegan is now employed by Todd Shapiro Associates Public Relations in Manhattan.

Elaine Gross, Christopher Sellers, Crystal Fleming, Miriam Sarwana and Abena Asare speak about race at ERASE Racism forum. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a politically charged time, race is seen as a third-rail issue, one that if touched leads to political headache in the case of a politician or a rough time around the holiday dinner table for everyday folks.

Which is why Elaine Gross, president of Syosset-based ERASE Racism, which wishes to examine and make meaningful change to race relations in New York, said Long Island was the perfect time and place to start meaningful conversations about race and racism, both in the overt and covert displays of prejudice.

“Even though we are becoming more diverse, that doesn’t mean we have what we want going on in our schools,” Gross said. “Long Island is home to 2.8 million people so we’re not a small place, but tremendously fragmented.”

The nonprofit, which was originally founded in 2001, made its first stop at Hilton Garden Inn, Stony Brook University Nov. 29 during a five-series Long Island-wide tour called How Do We Build a Just Long Island? The mission is to start a dialogue about meaningful change for race relations in both Suffolk and Nassau counties. Four panelists, all professors and graduate students at Stony Brook, spoke to a fully packed room about their own research into the subject and took questions from the audience on how they could affect change in their own communities.

Christopher Sellers, history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, has studied what he described as “scientific racism,” of people who look at the superiority and inferiority of other races as an objective truth, an idea that was born during the enlightenment and colonial period used to justify conquering nations overseas. It’s a form of understanding identity that lives on in many people, Sellers said.

“It’s as old as western society itself,” he said.

Race is an important issue in a county that is very segregated depending on the town and school district. An image created by the nonprofit and compiled with information from the New York State Department of Education shows a district such as Port Jefferson is made up of 80 percent white students, while in the Brentwood school district 79 percent of students are Latino and 12 percent are black.

Panelists argued that racism exists and is perpetuated through local policy. Abena Asare,
assistant professor of Modern African Affairs and History said that racism currently exists in the segregated schools, in lack of public transportation, zoning laws and other land-use policies created by local governments.

“Many of the policies on our island that insulate and produce structural racism are based on a false narrative on what Long Island was, who it is was for, and the fear of where it is going,” Asare said. “Creating new futures requires that we expose the version of the past that justifies or separates an unequal status quo.”

Crystal Fleming, an associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook, spoke about how historically the idea of white supremacy is ingrained in America’s social consciousness, that lingering ideas of one race’s entitlement to security and citizenship over other races have helped perpetuate racist ideas and policy.

“When we talk about systemic racism, it’s not black supremacy, it’s not Native American supremacy, it’s not Asian supremacy, it’s white supremacy,” Fleming said. “We need to be brave and talk frankly about these matters.”

Miriam Sarwana, a graduate student in psychology at Stony Brook, said after the civil rights movement of the 1960s racism did not simply die, but it became subtle, only used in the safety of the home. This is compounded by the lack of interaction between races on a daily basis.

“These biases are influenced by the social, societal and cultural [elements] in our lives, and can be influenced both directly and indirectly,” Sarwana said. “A white adult has little or no interaction with African-Americans, and then starting childhood this person may be exposed to negative images of African-Americans.”

The panelists said that the extreme segregation in school districts has resulted in an even greater disparity of resources and attention for nonwhite races. The issue, Asare said, after the forum, was that the 125 public school districts on Long Island have remained insular, leading to communities becoming disparate and inclusive. She said the best way to deal with this is to consolidate school districts, even along town lines, which could lead to bigger savings for school districts, more resources to less-served districts and allow for better cross-pollination of races between schools.

“The fact that those types of discussions are not normally occurring here speaks to a larger issue, that segregation works for a lot of people around Long Island,” Asare said.

The final Erase Racism forum in this series will be held Dec. 10 at the Radisson Hotel in Hauppauge at 6 p.m. Visit www.eraseracismny.org for more information or to register for the event.

Social

9,212FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,129FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe